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10 practice drills to improve your golf game

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If your life is like mine, you only have a limited amount of time to practice your golf game. So when you do, you want to maximize time rather than mindlessly beating range balls. Personally, as my golf career has progressed, I’ve figured out what works best for my golf game and what drills seem to give me the best output with my limited input.

In this article, I outline the drills that work for me. I’ve always placed drills into two categories, mechanical and game-improving. Mechanical drills are ones that help fix swing issues like over the top, casting, etc. Game-improving drills are ones that hone the necessary skills to shoot lower scores. In my experience, you need to perform both types of drills in order to truly improve your game.

For this article, I give you my top game-improving drills so you can make practice more fun and get better in the process. Look out for an article on my top mechanical drills in the near future.

1. Putting: High Break, Medium Break, Low Break

PuttingBreak

Being a successful putter means consistently marrying line and speed. But in order to do that, you need to be able to see the different lines that the ball can possibly take as it rolls across the green. There’s a “high” side and a “low” side to every putt, and if you can’t see the difference between those, you’re limiting your ability to read greens.

This drill helps develop that feel and imagination.

Pick a putt between 10-20 feet with some break in it, and practice finding the highest and lowest break points possible to still have the ball go in the hole. This will mean altering speeds in the process. Developing your imagination will help you better manage your line and speed on the greens.

2. Putting: Left Hand (Line), Right Hand (Feel)

Golfers often feel that one hand dominates their putting stroke, which is not a problem, but I like to train each hand individually to know its role during the stroke.

“Lead hand controls the line while the rear hand controls the loft of the blade,” Homer Kelley says in the classic golf instruction book, The Golfing Machine.

This drill, which you may have seen Tiger Woods perform in the past, has golfers hit putts of different lengths with just their right hand, and then just their left hand. You’ll want to notice how the face and loft of the blade changes during the strokes with each hand, which will give you a great feel for the role that each hand plays in the stroke.

Figure out which hand you feel more comfortable with when putting one-handed, and you’ll then know which hand you want to feel dominates the stroke when you’re putting with both hands.

3. Getting Back Your Short Game Feel

Back when I was a competitive player, there was nothing worse than losing my feel around the greens. I combatted this by looking for the longest grass around the practice green I could find, and practicing soft-landing flop shots to a tight pin. The longer grass made me accelerate through the ball and the precision required made me focus on hitting a perfect shot. And more times than not, I’d have my feel back after the session.

The next time you’re struggling with your feel, try hitting shots that require acceleration. It will free you up so you can get back to getting up and down.

4. Snake Drill (Bunkers)

BunkerDrillGolf

The biggest issue most golfers have when playing bunker shots is their lack of low-point control; most can contact the sand before the ball, as needed, but they either take too much sand or not enough. If you’ve ever seen someone leave a ball in the bunker, then blade one over the green, you know what I’m talking about.

To solve this, I like to draw two lines in the bunker about six inches apart– I call them “snakes,” because that’s what they look like — and practice impacting the sand on the first line and have the club exit the sand at the second line. When I miss the “snakes,” I get to see exactly where I went wrong.

5. Line Drill (Wedges)

IronDivotDrill

One of the most aggravating things in golf is to hit a great drive to 100 yards or less from the pin, then lay the sod over the ball on your approach and watch the ball fly only half-way there. As you know, hitting wedges solid is one of the keys to scoring well and one of the true great feels in golf. So whenever I have issues striking my wedges solidly, I use my “line drill.”

Draw a line in the turf and place the ball on the target side of the line. Then, hit a few shots and note where the divot begins. If you can consistently take a divot on the line or slightly forward of it, you’re on your way to more solid wedge shots.

6. Connection Drill (Wedges)

GolfDrillsStickney

Consistent impact with wedge shots is crucial to ball striking, as we learned above. But how do we accomplish it from day to day? By using the big muscles to power the little muscles. A strong connection between the torso and the golf club will keep the body and club from getting disconnected. Whenever golfers use their hands excessively around the green, they’re destined for problems.

To combat this, place a towel under your armpits and hit short chip shots. The idea is to hit the ball solid and keep the towels from falling out, working everything back and through TOGETHER.

Another drill to feel this connection is to stick an alignment rod in the hole in your grip and make practice swings from waist high to waist high without getting slapped by the extra long club. If your hands become overactive, the stick will let you know.

7. Mid-Irons (Left-Straight-Right)

Anytime I see players hitting the ball very well OR very poorly, I ask them to use the left-straight-right drill with a mid-iron. That’s because when good golfers are hitting the ball well, they can make it curve however they want and go to the course with supreme confidence. On the flip side, if they’re hitting shots all over the lot, they’re usually better off identifying the trajectory they’re most confident in and sticking with it until their swings come back. That will help them score better.

For the drill, use a 6, 7 or 8 iron and practice hitting draws, fades and straight shots, alternating between each. Practice curving it a lot, then practice curving it a little. See how much control you can gain over the amount you curve the ball, or what shot is working best for you that day.

8. Mid-Iron (9 Panes of Glass Drill)

Imagine a big window in the sky with nine panes of glass; one pane for each possible shot you can hit. Low-left, high-right, straight-middle, and so on.

The best part of Bubba Watson’s game is the way he can make the ball move through any pane of glass with any club at any time. Golf is much more than just hitting a series of straight shots at the highest level, and shaping shots is key to converting good strikes into lower scores. The more shots you have in your arsenal the better you will play, regardless of your level of play.

Take as much time as you can to learn how to hit all nine shots with a mid-iron, and expand to the other clubs in your bag once you do. Start this winter and come spring, you’ll be glad you did.

9. Driver: Find the Fairway Any Way You Can

When you’re struggling with your driver, you need a go-to shot to find the fairway. It’s even more important to have a go-to shot when you’re under pressure, whether you’re playing for your pride or your career.

For this drill, simply take time experimenting on the range with your driver. Try hitting huge banana balls, stingers and hooks on command. Eventually, you’ll figure out what shot feels most reliable for you. Remember, this is more about accuracy than distance. You want to find the shot you can get in the fairway no matter what.

10. Driver: Impact Drill with Spray

ImpactPointsFeat

The best way to audit your impact on the practice tee is to spray the face with Dr. Scholl’s Foot Spray to see where the ball contacts the face. Remember, you can do more to gain distance by improving impact location and consistency than adding club head speed.

Related: How a cure for athletes foot can lead to better drives

One of the best recent golf studies I’ve seen was by James Leitz, who charted the changes in impact point with a driver and what it did to the ball speed, spin rate, and launch angle. Basically, the study showed that golfers must contact their drives in the high center of the club face to create the launch conditions that maximize distance off the tee.

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Chris

    Jul 9, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Love the Dr Scholl idea! Will definitely use it next time.

  2. Pingback: Golf Practice Drills To Improve Your Golf Game - TrueStrike Golf Practice Mats

  3. Pingback: 10 PRACTICE DRILLS | Honourable Society of Golf Fanatics

  4. Dan

    Jan 10, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Great article and perfectly timed. This will help keep me focused during the long NE winter months. I look forward to your foreshadowed subsequent article.

  5. Bert

    Jan 8, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Tom – remember you from your time at Sandestin. Looks like your still one of the best instructors in golf and thanks much for your articles. One subject, and I may have missed it, is spine angle (posture). I believe the need to maintain correct posture is very difficult as we get older. Also I’ve noticed that my wife Sheri, who’s short, has a tendency to stand tall and it seems to cause her to swing flat which causes fat shots and low left hooks. Lydia Ko is short but has great posture and her swing appears to be upright and she hits down on the ball. Can spine angle cure fat shots and give you the ability to hit down and through the ball?

    • Jack

      Jan 14, 2016 at 11:00 pm

      I don’t think it’s the spine angle so much as the proper sequencing of body movements. Lower body to shoulder to arm. When you start activating the arms too early, you’re bound to hit it fat. For me, I try to remember the arms don’t start really swinging forward until the right shoulder is rotating down at impact.

      I have the same problem with fat shots, and it’s a combination of the above factors. Standing too upright is a problem for me as well, and I’ve found that my hands compensate by holding the club too straight rather than pressing down on it at impact which encourages an angle between the club and the forearms. You see that in all pros. The bad thing about the problem is that it promotes hooks as the clubface is naturally closed when I hold it more straighter to the forearm.

      Swinging in the right sequence should fix all that, although with all swing changes it’s frustrating as heck. And since this is one of the more common amateur mistakes, I’d say it’s one that is easier said that done (probably like all golf swing fixes).

  6. Tom

    Jan 8, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I was spraying Dr. Scholl’s on my driver and people thought I was crazy saying ” Be sure you get between the toes”

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Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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WATCH: How to execute the “Y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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WATCH: Try the “battering ram” drill to achieve ball-first contact

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Yes, you heard me, one of the best drills we have is the battering ram drill. It is awesome for getting the relationship between body turn and arm swing correct, and improving your impact conditions. Enjoy the video, and hope this helps!

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